Containers are not a solution to retarded XRefs, unfortunately

loocas | 3ds Max,opinions,technical | Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

It is sad, but the promising concept of Containers introduced in 3ds Max 2010 is lacking fundamental functionality. It’s lacking so much I can hardly see a benefit in using them instead of XRefs.

With XRefs, you don’t have to place another node in your scene at least, but generally, the workflow and features are pretty much the same. True, with Containers you can specify whether that particular container can or can not be modified and thus when you edit the contents and update the Container, this gets propagated through the hierarchy of containers in your pipeline. Which is nice, but quite useless in my opinion!

What I’d much rather see is a similar (but much better, of course) system to Maya’s References, or, hell, much better yet, Houdini’s Digital Assets. I’d love to be able to reference a scene with a prop or a character in a different scene, rig and skin it and save it as yet another reference (Container, XRef or whatever you want to call it), then I could reference it again (making nested references) in a final shot scene and be able to light or override materials on those referenced scenes in depth. Not necessarily be able to modify the asset itself (perhaps password protected?), but at least be able to exclude/include the contents of the Container from lights, be able to assign them various render elements needed for the compositors, be able to override their material properties and also be able to source their data (transformations, properties etc…), and much more of course.

So far, Containers are a nice concept, definitely with a modern architecture and current pipelines in mind, but right now, completely useless! I’d instead prefer if XRefs got a complete rewrite and we would FINALLY be able to work non-linearly in Max on a project level as this is terrible right now! A robust pipeline with a fool-proof studio setup is the way to go for any company/studio (which is what I’m focusing on right now) and in the end it’s VITAL to the studio environment! Then and only then you can bring on the talent and start making the coolest shit in the VFX world.

What I propose is the following:

  • Scratch Containers and instead rewrite the entire XRef system
  • Make the objects referenced locally accessible, not editable, but accessible to REs, Lights etc…
  • Make the objects referenced locally editable, but password protected
  • Definitely don’t introduce a new node necessary for the referencing, this makes your scenes a lot messier and harder to navigate in properly
  • Allow nested references to be flexible and easy to manage with the option of being able to edit nested references and propagate updates effortlessly
  • Allow for multiple artists to work on a single multi-reference file, so that one artist can model, the second rig arms, the other rig legs and another to add UVs and textures to the same multi-reference with user specific privileges
  • Generally allow for a completely non-linear, non-destructive, workflow
  • Inspiration? Take a look at Houdini’s Digital assets, this is how it should be done!

I’m sure I’ve skipped something or completely forgotten some important features, but generally, this, robust, new and flexible XRef system should allow teams to build really complex shots and assets with less micro-management, less effort and faster, but also much more securely as we could rely on what’s being rendered out really is the latest version of the character/prop/scene with the latest light rigs and the latest animation data.

Currently Max and a robust pipeline don’t rhyme at all, I hope this will get addressed soon!

Edit: Yes, I am aware of XRef Obejcts, it’s pros and cons and I use them extensively (in contrast to Containers for example), I’d like this system to get updated, more robust and to reflect modern and current demands and production issues. So far, XRef Objects seems to be the best option, however, there are limitations and XRef Objects are definitely not the final solution to this problem. But close enough, though.


  1. hey there…

    just found this post, as Im currently looking into the asset management in max. Initially I thought containers were pretty useless aswell. but with the introduction of more features to the container system in max 2011, Im begining to think that going with containers might be the better option?

    Comment by Toke Jepsen — August 7, 2010 @ 13:55

  2. Well, containers certainly are the future, however, they’re still not there yet for a more complex and more sophisticated pipeline.

    Comment by loocas — August 7, 2010 @ 15:38

  3. Completely agree. This feature is useless. The dumb xref’s are stable at least. I work on large scenes usually and I couldn’t get it to work smoothly with a simple scene…fail.

    Comment by jin — September 2, 2010 @ 16:46

  4. agree.. using max is frustating.. and sorry to say that max is suck.. now i see.. my choice is wrong.. better maya than max.. you want to challange? try to make xref better like maya.. and right now.. im quit using max.. period!!!…

    Comment by angka123 — August 13, 2012 @ 14:07

  5. I wouldn’t say generally that Max sucks, but some of its features are really shitty. :) But that’s pretty much the same deal with every other software package.

    Comment by loocas — August 16, 2012 @ 22:27

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